Recognizing National Native American Heritage Month & Addressing Health Disparities in American Indian/Alaskan Native Communities

November 3, 2015

WASHINGTON - National Native American Heritage Month takes place throughout the month of November, to honor the contributions, sacrifices, achievements and cultural legacy of the United States’ indigenous peoples.  As Men’s Health Network (MHN) prepares to honor the approximately 3 million American Indian/ Alaskan Native (AI/AN) peoples who live in the US, we feel this is an opportune time to discuss the pervasive health disparities taking place in AI/AN communities.

According to the Indian Health Service (IHS) AI/AN peoples born today have a life expectancy that is 4.2 years less than the average American.  Even more startling is the fact that AI/AN males experience elevated rates of mortality in comparison with their female counterparts. MHN’s report on AI/AN men’s health suggests that certain social determinants such as historical trauma, loss of social roles and cultural connection, poverty and unemployment may have a greater disparate impact on the health of AI/AN males than females.

Tamara James, PhD, who serves as the project coordinator for the Oklahoma City Area Inter-Tribal Health Board and focuses on activities related to Oklahoma Area Native Men’s Health has first hand experience with this increasing healthcare gap in native communities. James notes, "The men in my family, members of both the Ponca and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have started to disappear. The evidence of long-standing, untreated mental and physical healthcare needs has become apparent in an the increasing absence of our men in every space of our communities.  As a daughter, sister and mother, I know this is unsustainable and must change"

Today, the members of 566 federally recognized AI/AN Tribes and their descendants are eligible for services provided by the IHS. While an Office of Indian Men’s Health was authorized under the Affordable Care Act, the office has yet to be physically established. Leaving tribes few resources with which to combat the rising mortality rates affecting AI/AN males.

In recognition of National Native American Heritage Month, Men’s Health Network is renewing our commitment to raising awareness of health disparities and establishing a plan of action to achieve greater health equity for AI/AN men and their families. To learn more about health disparities among American Indian/Alaskan Native men & boys, visit the Men’s Health Resource Center.